When preparing for your fantasy baseball drafts, it is a must to have a draft strategy, and yesterday, Zack Smith offered his thoughts on how to approach starting pitchers on draft day. We have also provided you with our Top 75 starting pitcher rankings for 2014:
Included in the rankings above, we provided 2014 projections for almost every starting pitcher ranked, courtesy of Daniel Schwartz from Fake Teams and Rotobanter.
Now that we have provided you all these tools you need to prepare for your drafts, your fantasy draft preparation would be incomplete without some starting pitchers to target, which we provide you today, and some starting pitchers to avoid, which publishes tomorrow.
We asked each of the fantasy baseball writers to provide you with the starting pitchers they would target in fantasy drafts this season, and you can find them along with their reasoning below.
Starting Pitchers to Target in 2014
Kluber shocked the fantasy world in 2013, winning 11 of his 24 starts with a 3.85 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 3.10 xFIP with a 1.26 WHIP and a 22.4% strikeout rate in 147.1 innings. He struck out more than eight batters per nine, limited the free pass and kept the ball on the ground at a 45% rate, but was hurt by the long ball in April and May. He pitched better than his ERA reflected last season, and with the help of pitching coach Mickey Calloway, could surprise once again in 2014. He is currently being drafted in the 17th-18th round of NFBC 15 team drafts, but I would have no problem grabbing him a few rounds earlier than that.
The Braves young starter was the #1 rated right-handed pitching prospect by MLB.com to begin the 2012 season. Teheran struggled during the 2012 season while focusing on making adjustments to his pitching motion. The Braves allowed Teheran to return to his old mechanics in 2013, and we saw why the former top prospect was once so highly regarded. The rookie flirted with multiple no-hitters on the year while earning the label as a must-start fantasy option. After accumulating 185 innings pitched in 2013, the reigns should be completely off for this future fantasy ace in 2014. Coming in at #26 overall in our consensus SP rankings earlier this week, Teheran has the skill set to improve upon his 2013 performance, and is capable of becoming a top 15 overall fantasy SP by this time next year.
Josh Johnson, Padres - Jason Hunt (follow @jasonsbaseball)
Johnson may have the highest upside of any pitcher you can get late in drafts. He's been a top 10 starting pitcher in the past, and will be pitching in one of the more favorable situations you can have as a starting pitcher with more than half of his starts in Petco, Dodger Stadium, and AT&T Park. The concern remains the same as it always is with Johnson (his health), but in shallower formats I'd rather take the risk that Johnson could return to form than take a pitcher with no upside but solid stats like Mark Buehrle.
Sonny Gray, Athetics - Jasper Scherer (follow @jaspsch)
With plenty of reasons to target Gray this year, it's hard to fathom just how cheaply you can grab him for in most drafts. With an ADP of 153.36 in NFBC leagues, he's available relatively late in most cases, despite posting a 2.67 ERA across 12 games (10 starts) in 2013. For one, Gray pitches in a fantastic park for pitchers, and he also has a top defensive outfield. Most importantly, however, the right-hander has a repertoire that puts him among the best young pitchers in the league in terms of pure "stuff." In 79 at bats against his curveball in 2013, opponents his .089, making it one of the more un-hittable pitches in the majors. (For some perspective, opponents batted .212 against Mariano Rivera's cutter last year.) Gray also was strong in October, and while it's certainly easy to get too high on certain players because of postseason success, à la David Freese, doing so is warranted in this case. Facing one of the top lineups in the AL, the Tigers, Gray posted a 2.08 ERA across two starts, including an eight-inning shutout gem. Expect Gray to pick up right where he left off.
This is a guy who could easily deliver top 20 SP stats for you this year. Howard Bender from fangraphs says he's an 8th round talent that could produce 3rd round results and I tend to agree...even with some obvious regression in his peripherals this year. The finger injury (that should only keep him out the first few weeks of the season) makes him a perfect guy to target in trades and will deflate his value on draft day. I'm buying.
The Yankees' pitcher I want the most on my team is no longer C.C. Sabathia. It's not even international free-agent Masahiro Tanaka, who I won't reach for to acquire. No, the man I want the most in New York is Ivan Nova. Last season, the right-hander made 20 starts with a 3.17 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 127 2/3 innings (as a starter). While his strikeouts dipped slightly, Nova pitched to his strengths in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. His 54 percent ground ball rate was top-10 among starters with at least 120 innings, as the 27-year-old gave up a total of just nine home runs in 139-plus innings. For comparison, Sabathia allowed 28 home runs in 211 innings. Nova finished with a career-best 9.3 percent swinging strike rate, and his O-Swing% went up from 30 percent to 33 percent. While you should expect something closer to a 3.50 ERA, Nova could net 15 wins and 160-plus strikeouts, which would make him an absolute steal as a third or fourth starter on your staff -- his current NFBC ADP is 297.83, or as the 77th starting pitcher. Don't sleep on Nova.
Cobb was limited to 22 starts and 143.1 innings last season because of that nasty line drive off the bat of Eric Hosmer. In that time, he put up a 2.76 ERA with a 1.151 WHIP and struck out 8.4 per 9. There was nothing exceptional about his luck - he put up a .279 BABIP and a 3.02 xFIP, indicating there was something fortunate there but nothing scare-inducing. Basically, the only thing separating 2013 Cobb from Cy Young candidacy was Hosmer, and that's the least repeatable thing about his season. I think he's a top-15 option.
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